Advani versus Modi: The shishya who wanted to be guru

by Vivek Kaul  Jun 10, 2013 17:17 IST

#BJP   #LK Advani   #Narendra Modi   #News Analysis   #Politics   #PoliticsDecoder   #RSS  

Or as the old Hindi film dialogue goes "hum to doobenge sanam, par tumko bhi le doobenge".

Lal Krishna Advani, a former film critic, who built the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) right from scratch, today quit from the three main fora of the party, the National Executive, the Parliamentary Board and the Election Committee.

In his resignation letter Advani said that for sometime he had been finding it difficult to reconcile with the current functioning of the party as well as the direction in which it was going. "I no longer have the feeling that this is the same idealistic party created by Dr (Shyama Prasad)Mookerji, Pandit Deendayalji (Sharma), Nanaji (Deshmukh) and (Atal Bihari) Vajpayeeji, whose sole concern was the country, and its people. Most leaders of ours are now concerned just with their personal agenda," he writes.

End of bonhomie? AFP

End of bonhomie? AFP

This came from a man under whose leadership the BJP went from two seats in the 1984 Lok Sabha election to 182 seats in the 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections. Though when it came to leading the government Advani had to make way for the more acceptable and the softer face of the party, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Nearly 15 years later, in 2013, Advani thought that finally his time had come. His time to lead the country. Something he had always wanted to do, but never gotten around to. It was the last throw of the dice for him. A nice farewell into the sunset. But that was not to be.

He was upstaged by a man who was once very close to him. Someone who Advani taught a lot about politics. And someone whom he promoted as well as protected on different occasions. The man they call Narendra Damodardas Modi.

A son of a tea shop owner from Vadnagar in Gujarat, who rose first through the ranks of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS) and later the BJP, and grew so tall, that he finally managed to upstage his guru Advani as well. And this is something that Advani could not digest, which in turn led to the nuclear option, which now threatens to create huge problems for the BJP.

Narendra Modi started working for the RSS at a young age of six. He joined the RSS formally as a pracharak at the age of 21, in 1971. He was the second pracharak to be deputed by the RSS to BJP, its political affiliate. This happened sometime in 1987-88, during the days when Modi used to go around Ahemdabad in an ash coloured Bajaj Chetak.

This was also the time when Advani was looking to rebuild the BJP, after its disastrous performance in the 1984 Lok Sabha election, where the party had won just two seats. Among other things Advani decided to revive the post of the organising secretary in the state units of BJP. In the erstwhile Jana Sangh (BJP's earlier avatar before it merged with other parties to form the Janata Party in 1977) the post was held by RSS pracharaks. Modi was made the organising secretary of the Gujarat unit of the BJP.

As Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay writes in Narendra Modi -- The Man. The Times "From the beginning it was evident that Modi was Advani's personal choice and he was keen to strengthen the unit in Gujarat because the state was identified as a potential citadel in the future."

Advani also mentored Modi during his early days in politics. "It was Advani who mentored Modi when he virtually handpicked him into his team of state apparatchiks after recommendations from a few trusted peers in the late 1980s. Advani also gave Modi early lessons in how to convert the mosque-temple dispute into one of national identity and political blackmail," writes Mukhopadhyay.

Modi would soon rise to national prominence when he would play a part in organising Advani's famed Rath Yatra which yielded huge political dividends for the BJP. As Mukhopadhyay points out "Modi came into the national spotlight for the first time when he helped organise Advani's Rath Yatra in September-October 1990...Modi coordinated the arrangements during the Gujarat leg and travelled up to Mumbai and it was a huge success in Gujarat – both in terms of seamless arrangements and public support."

After the Rath Yatra he also helped organise Murli Manohar Joshi's Ekta Yatra. Given the finesse with which he organised these yatras, for a while he was referred to as the poor man's Pramod Mahajan. The late Pramod Mahajan was the man BJP turned to when it had organise big events.

In 1991, when it was getting risky for Advani to contest from the New Delhi Lok Sabha constituency given the low turn out that it had in elections, it was Modi who suggested that Advani move to the safe seat of Gandhinagar in Gujarat. A seat that Advani has represented since then except in 1996 when he had to resign due to the allegations of money laundering made against him in the hawala scam.

In the years to come the relationship between Modi and Advani went from strength to strength, with Modi emerging as the super chief minister of the first BJP government in Gujarat in the mid 1990s.

As Advani's fondness for Modi grew, so did Modi's stature within the BJP. "Throughout the 1990s and even after Modi became chief minister, Advani's special fondness for Modi has been well known by both party insiders and observers... Advani had played a crucial role in the making of Modi as chief minister (of Gujarat) replacing Keshubhai Patel in October 2001."

Within months of becoming the chief minister of Gujarat, Modi had a big problem on his hand. The bogey number S6 of the Sabarmati Express caught fire on 27 February 2002, on the outskirts of the Godhra railway station. Fifty eight people died in the fire. The bogey had kar sevaks returning from a yagna n Ayodhya.

As Ramachandra Guha points out in India After Gandhi "On their way back home by train , these kar sevaks got into a fight with Muslim vendors at the Godhra railway station…Words of the altercation spread; young men from the Muslim neighbourhood outside the station joined in. The kar sevaks clambered back into the train, which started moving as stones were being thrown. However, the train stopped on the outskirts of the station, when a fire broke out in one of its coaches. Fifty eight people perished in the conflagration…Word that a group of kar sevaks had been burnt to death at Godhra quickly spread through Gujarat. A wave of retributory violence followed."

After the riots there was immense pressure on Modi to resign. When prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee came to Gujarat after the riots, he suggested the same. As Mukhopadhyay writes "Vajpayee visited the state capital (of Gujarat) on 4 April 2002 and was apologetic—among other issues—for not paying a visit earlier. He called the events a blot on India and made no secret of his displeasure at the Modi government's handling of the situation. The denouement came at the end of the day-long visit when he advised Modi to follow the Raj Dharma when the prime minister was specifically queried if he had any message for Modi.”

Modi continued to be the chief minister of Gujarat and that was primarily because of the blessings of Advani. Even though Vajpayee was the prime minister, the party was still run by Advani. As Mukhopadhyay points out “Once again in 2002, it was Advani who acted as a buffer between Modi and a section of the party which was baying for his blood as a symbolic atonement for the 2002 riots."

Modi continued to live to fight another day and continued to rise within the BJP, applying the tricks of the trade that he had learnt from Advani.

On a visit to Pakistan in June 2005, Advani tried to become the statesman that Vajpayee was by saying nice things about Mohammed Ali Jinnah. As Advani wrote in the Visitors' Book at the Jinnah Mausoleum: "There are many people who leave an inerasable stamp on history...But there are very few who actually create history. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah was one such rare individual."

With this statement, Advani probably wanted to get rid of the tag of the original posterboy of Hindutva. But that did not work. And saying nice things about Jinnah did not go down well with RSS, which still believes in the idea of Akhand Bharat. Advani had to quit as the president of the BJP as a result of this faux pas.

The relations between Advani and Modi started turning sour after this. Advani obviously was trying to get rid of his tag of being the posterboy of Hindutva. But saying nice things about Jinnah went against the entire idea of Akhand Bharat which the RSS believes in. Around this time, Modi started to distance himself from his mentor. Advani had to pay for this statement and had to quit as the BJP party president in late 2005.

And this created space for Modi for a bigger role. As Mukhopadhyay writes "The original poster boy of Hindutva ceased to be and yielded space to the much younger Modi as the mascot of the aggressive Hindu face. At times it appeared that the guru-shishya relationship of yore had been replaced by intense rivalry."

In the time that has followed the rivalry only grown. The final nail in the coffin came yesterday when the BJP decided to appoint Modi as the chairman of the of the campaign committee of the BJP for the 2014 Lok Sabha election. This was essentially a signal that Modi was the tallest leader in the party and not Advani.

The shishya (disciple) had finally arrived.

The son of a tea shop owner had risen through the ranks and been chosen the 'leader' among the leaders of the BJP.

This was very unlike the Congress which chose it leader on 19 June 1970, the day Rahul Gandhi was born.

The only problem was that the guru still wanted to be the guru.

His last ambition still hadn't been fulfilled.

And given this, how could the shishya takeover?

And if the shishya had decided to takeover, what would the guru do in the party anyway.

But for a man who has fought his fights as well as Advani has, how could he go down into the textbooks of history without one last fight.

The masterstroke by Advani has caught everybody off guard. The boxer in him is still alive. Advani 'Rocky' Balboa may not be as quick as once he was, but when he hits them, they hurt.

What will the shishya do now?

(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)